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Spread 'em: strip search approval.

IN 2001 the Supreme Court said the Fourth Amendment does not preclude "a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation punishable only by a fine." The other shoe dropped in April, when the Court said the Fourth Amendment allows strip searches of "every detainee who will be admitted to the general population" of a jail, no matter how minor his offense.


The strip search case was brought by Albert W. Florence, a New Jersey man who was arrested during a traffic stop because a database erroneously showed that he had failed to pay a criminal fine. Florence was held for a week in two different jails and strip-searched twice before the matter was cleared up.

The five justices in the majority, in an opinion by Anthony Kennedy, deferred to the judgment of correctional officials concerning which policies are appropriate to prevent weapons and other contraband from entering jails, noting that the hazard does not necessarily hinge on the seriousness of a prisoner's crime. The four dissenting justices argued that the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches" requires an exception to the general strip search rule when a prisoner is charged with "a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence," unless there is a "reasonable suspicion" that he is carrying contraband."

The strip search decision not only magnifies the potential humiliation associated with the arrests for trivial offenses that the Court approved in 2001; it also enhances the already considerable power that police officers have to conduct searches during routine traffic stops. In states that give police discretion to arrest people for minor offenses such as failing to buckle a seat belt, officers can present drivers with a choice: a search of your car now or a search of your bodily orifices later.

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Title Annotation:Citings
Author:Sullum, Jacob
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 6, 2012
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